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EXAMINATION OF DEFINITIONS.
Natural and Revealed Religions. M OST of the earlier definitions of religion which
W we shall have to examine, have reference to Judaism and Christianity only.
These two religions were considered, in Europe at least, as different in kind from all the rest, being classed as supernatural and revealed, in opposition to all other religions which were treated as not-revealed, as natural, and by some theologians even as inspired by the powers of evil.
In an historical study of religion, however, such a distinction is untenable 1, for we shall find that the claim of revelation or the assertion of a supernatural origin is by no means peculiar to Christianity and Judaism. Most of the great religions of the world were by their followers believed to have been revealed, and the arguments by which such a belief was supported are much the same among all theologians.
As the founders of most religions professed to teach what no eye had seen nor ear heard, they could not invoke the ordinary authorities for the truth of their doctrines, but had to appeal to supernatural sources of knowledge. And even in cases where the founders
See Flint, Theism, p. 323.
themselves made no such claim, but took their stand on the testimony of the spirit of truth only, their followers would soon ascribe to them a higher authority,so as to render all questionings and all opposition to their doctrines impossible. This applies to all or nearly all religions, and the claim of a supernatural origin, so far from being exceptional, is really one of the most natural tendencies of natural religion.
The student of Comparative Theology therefore can claim no privilege, no exceptional position of any kind, for his own religion, whatever that religion may be. For his purposes all religions are natural and historical. Even the claim of a supernatural character is treated by him as a natural and perfectly intelligible claim, which may be important as a subjective element, but can never be allowed to affect the objective character of any religion.
Comparative Theology. In that respect Comparative Theology has but followed the example of what used to be called Natural Theology, which was always defined as the study of religion, independent of revelation. It professed to comprise all that could be known of God by the aid of the human understanding alone. This system of natural religion, such as we find it elaborated, for instance, by Raymundus de Sabunde (or Sebonde), was intended at first to serve as an introduction only to revealed religion. But it soon became independent, and Natural Religion, in its purity and reasonableness, threatened to excel all revealed religion. In the last century all religions began to be treated as sects, if not as corruptions, of Natural Religion, and a study which at first was looked upon as a powerful aid to faith, was afterwards discouraged as dangerous to the interests of true religion.
1 Thus we read in the Theologia Naturalis sive Liber Creaturarum, specialiter de homine et de natura ejus in quantum homo, et de his quae sunt ei necessaria ad cognoscendum seipsum et deum, et omne debitum ad quod homo tenetur et obligatur tum Deo quam proximo, Argentinae, 1496, 'Liber creaturarum est porta, via, janua, intro
Natural Theology differed, however, from what is now called Comparative Theology in that it paid but scant attention to the historical religions of the world, framing its ideal of what natural religion ought to be, from the inner consciousness only.
But in the same way as towards the beginning of our century General Grammar, which taught what, according to the rules of logic, language ought to be, was replaced by Comparative Grammar, which showed what language really had been, the study of Natural or General Theology also had to make room for the study of Comparative Theology, or what may be called the Science of Religions, as distinguished from the Science of Religion. While Natural Theology treated of religion in the abstract, or of what religion might or should have been, Comparative Theology studies religions as they have been, and tries to discover what is peculiar to each and what is common to all, with a silent conviction that what is common to all religions, whether revealed or not, may possibly constitute the essential elements of true religion.
Modus cognoscendi et colendi Deum. The first definition with which we have to deal, and which is perhaps the most widely accepted among ductorium et lumen quoddam ad librum sacrae scripturae in quo sunt verba Dei, et ideo ille praesupponit istum.' (Titulus ccxii.)
Christian theologians, existed, as we shall see, with a very slight alteration, among non-Christian as well as among Christian theologians. In most theological manuals we find religion defined as modus cognoscendi et colendi Deum, 'a mode of knowing and worshipping God.'
Though accepted by most theologians as unobjectionable, this definition has not escaped criticism. It is said 1 that a definition should trace whatever has to be defined back to one genus proximum, not to two; that if religion is a mode of knowing God, well and good; but that it cannot be at the same time a mode of worshipping God. This may be true in logic, but what can we do if, as a matter of fact, the same name has been given to our knowledge as well as to our worship of God ? In that case the definition of religio as modus cognoscendi et colendi Deum would at all events be historically correct. But that is not all. There are surely many concepts which have two sides, nay, which become complete only when we comprehend these two or more sides as sides of one and the same concept. We may define a triangle by its three angles as well as by its three sides. Our definition of logic becomes complete only if we define it both as a knowledge and as an art. Even while engaged in studying logic and gaining a knowledge of the laws of thought, we practise these very laws, while afterwards in practising the laws, we know also as logicians that we know them. It is the same in medicine, in law, and in most of what we call the applied sciences. Knowledge and practice, επιστήμη And τέχνη, are mostly inseparable.
1 This is powerfully stated by Teichmüller in his Religionsphilosophie, 1886, p. 16.
And this really holds true in religion more than anywhere else. Is not religion as mere knowledge or faith said to be dead, being alone 1,' that is, being without works? And would not works, however perfect and useful, cease to be religions, if performed without a motive, without a knowledge of God ?
Peeling or Knowledge as motive of action. But we may even go a step further. All our acts. are stimulated either by feeling or by knowledge, by percepts or by concepts. A feeling of pain makes us act in one way, a feeling of pleasure in another. A mere perception of distance makes the crow fly direct, that is by the shortest road, and induces a peasant to cross a field diagonally, instead of laterally. A knowledge of geometry produces the same action, only lined with intelligence. An engineer does what the crow does, only he does it, not simply by intuition, but because he knows that the hypothenuse of any triangle is, nay, must always be, shorter than the two other sides together. In this way every act of ours may be shown, I believe, to be under the influence of either feeling or knowledge, and thus the active side of religion also could easily be shown to be inseparable from, though of course not identical with, the theoretic side.
The logical fault, therefore, of tracing religion to two proxima genera instead of one, if fault it be, would have its historical justification in the fact that active religion, whether worship or morality, is, in its beginning at all events, inseparable from religious
1 Ep. James iii. 17.